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NEW YORK (
Warren Buffett-owned MidAmerican Energy is making a second big solar industry bet by buying a non-controlling, 49% stake in a $1.8 billion, 290-megawatt solar project called Agua Caliente from
NRG Energy (NRG - Get Report).
The investment in Agua Caliente, which was first developed by the once high-flying industry leader
First Solar(FSLR - Get Report) is Buffett's second big push into mega-sized solar projects, signaling that the legendary investor is becoming increasingly solar minded.
Earlier in December, MidAmerican snapped up a $2 billion project called Topaz from First Solar.
Buffett's buying into projects with long-term energy distribution agreements already in place signals how some may invest in other once strong-performing U.S. players like
MEMC Electronics(MEMC). Weak earnings outlooks and lower distribution prices have spurred the recent bankruptcies of
Evergreen Solar, in addition to earnings cuts throughout the industry.
"We are aggressively pursuing opportunities to expand our presence in the renewable energy sector, and the Agua Caliente project is another important step toward that goal," said Greg Abel, chief executive of MidAmerican Energy in a statement announcing the deal.
The project has already broken ground and has the support of a $967 million loan guarantee from the
U.S. Department of Energy. More importantly, Agua Caliente has a long-term power agreement to sell its energy generation to
Pacific Gas & Electric at above current market rates.
Agua Caliente is one of a few multi-billion developments by First Solar that are ready for an investor like Buffett. The Tempe, Az.,-based company is struggling to hit earnings and on Wednesday the company cut its 2012
profitability outlook on lower energy selling prices as it scrambles to lower the cost-per-watt to produce panels, leading shares 20% lower to 2011 lows.
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The project MidAmerican is buying from NRG -- and an earlier Topaz purchase -- are two of the largest photovoltaic solar energy developments in the world, which will be integrated into
Berkshire Hathaway's(BRK.A - Get Report) MidAmerican energy business. For Buffett's mix of businesses, which began with an insurance focus, the move isn't so surprising.